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It's that time of year again - Oktoberfest (aka Wiesn) is right around the corner (September 22-October 7; next year it's 9/21-10/6)! But even if you don't make it for the world's biggest beer bash, Munich is still one of Europe's most attractive and fun cities, where autumn is lovely and even winter is a winner, especially during its world-famous Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) November 26 through December 24 - magical enough to get even a jaded Grinch like me grinning. And get this — Muc’s got the most singles of any German burg. It’s funny, too, because lederhosen-wearing Bavarian men may've been the original leather daddies, but Bavaria, the south German region of which this city's the capital, is a notoriously conservative bit of business run by right-wing Christian Democrats who make the country’s prime minister of their same party, Angela Merkel, look like Hanoi Jane. On a tour of the nearby town of Freising, the guide earnestly assured me that “most Bavarians are very Catholic, and revere the Virgin Mary,” just before rattling off the Freising-related history of Benny Rats—er, Pope Benedict XVI—who was bishop here for a bunch of years (though all is not lost—in the restaurant bathroom in the tiny lakeside town of Prien I did come across a condom machine next to another that sold “sex gags” at 2€ a pop).
A Quaint Yet Progressive, Gay-Friendly Island in Bavaria
Now, I'm something of a fan of European pop, and an oldie favorite is a 1979 tune from Spain's Miguel Bosé called Noche Blanca en Munich (White Night in Munich), essentially recounting a gay-bar pickup. Now, a quarter century later, when it comes to gay travel, Munich rocks - and has even turned downright progressive (the Social Democrats have long run city hall, currently along with the Greens and the Pink List — a queer party, would you believe it?), as well as jam-packed with stuff to do both day and night. The old town’s Brothers Grimm architecture, oom-pah-pah beer halls and of course the huge, famous glockenspiel clock in the old town hall (right) still charm the tourists, and apart from a plethora of churches and palaces, there are also some super museums here; two of the more recent additions are the very interesting Jüdisches Museum (Jewish museum), next to the handsome newish synagogue, and BMW World, a slick, interactive ode to one of Bavaria’s most famous exports. I’m just sorry that on my last trip I never made it to the potato museum, and that they recently put a lid on the chamberpot museum after its owner died under mysterious circumstances. But sometimes, that’s just the way the pretzel crumbles.
This is a party-hearty town, too, and the fun starts even before noon at the many, many, many beer gardens and halls. For example, check out the world-famous Hofbräuhaus (sure, it’s touristy, but you’ll still spot Bavarians in folk costume who come in from the boonies to lift a few with their Freunden) and the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower, left), in a park called the Englischer Garten (English Garden)—there actually is a big ol’ wood tower there, kinda-sorta pagoda-ish, where the oompah band serenades the drinkers. Joints like these can actually be pretty good for meeting people, because everybody’s sitting at long tables and as the suds flow, they can get pretty hopped up, singingö and swaying like nobody’s business.
And by the way, after (maybe better make that before) a brewski at the the Chinese Tower, stop and get an eyeful at a nearby meadow in the English Garden where some locals still like to come to catch a spot of solar skinny dipping (one local friend of mine says, “the moment there’s one ray of sun around here, zip-zip, off come the clothes). Here nudity’s absolutely, refreshingly no big deal at all—you see tits and asses on TV all the time, and FKK (Freikoörperkultur, or “free body culture”) has more followers than a bitch in heat. On the other hand, it’s possible overdo it; not long ago, an American was fined 200€ for casually strolling around the center of Nuremburg (another Bavarian city) with his bratwurst hanging out just ’cause he spottted people doing it in some park.
Sex Very Much on the Menu
But for the most part, this laid-back attitude pretty much extends to sex, too. One of Germany’s household names is Beate Uhse, a widowed ex-Luftwaffe pilot (no joke) who in the 40’s and 50’s pedaled her bike through the postwar ruins of Flensburg selling marital aids (I like to think of her as the Fuckerware Lady). She leveraged that into today’s high-profile erotica retail empire, including shops like the fancy one on Munich’s downtown Sedlingerstrasse, whose merch ranges from mild (scented massage oils) to wild (pissing porn, bondage gear, and oh so much more); there's even a shop at the airport, fer cryin' out loud (right). Specifically gay shops, BTW, include SpeXter and Bruno’s.
Both sex and partying really take off here after dark, though. Some of my non-Bavarian friends in Munich complain that the locals have a definite superiority complex over other Germans, but whatever—they’re certainly fun to hang with and pick up, and a lot of them do speak a certain amount of English (still, I guarantee you’ll still be the life of the party if you whip out our Gay Translator phrasebook). Things are definitely way out of the Schrank here — as I mentioned, the gay Rosa Liste party helps run city hall, and a fag and a pair of dykes from different parties has been helping keep things tasteful on the city council.
The “scene” is centered around Gärtnerplatz, a square anchoring a low-slung area several blocks south of the medieval city center (sometimes called the Gärtnerplatzviertel or Glockenbachviertel). Besides a cultural center, there are bars and clubs catering to everything from twinks to bears to leather to trendoids (more than a few still with darkrooms), and I found a kind of epicenter to be a café/bar/Internet point called Kr@ftAkt (Thalkirchnerstrasse 11), where a lot of people start out their evenings. You’ve got at least three bath houses, the biggest and best of which is located right in a great, modern hotel and bar/restaurant complex called the Deutsche Eiche (Reichenbachstrasse 13; façade left, sauna right). Actually, the Eiche not only totally rocks, but it's also historic, dating back to 1864—and as of the 1950’s it became a gay/boho hangout attracting the likes of filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder and Queen rocker Freddie Mercury. It was developed into what it is today by Dietmar Holfzapfel, a jolly ex-teacher who was the first local Schwule (look it up in The Gay Translator) to get married to his partner when such things became legal in Germany in 2002. And BTW, if you’d rather line up a date or two ahead of time, the best site is probably GayRomeo.com , run out of Amsterdam but with more than 1,800 members in Munich (that’s a lotta wurst) and the Brit-based Gaydar.com. Another cool bit of business not to miss if you’re here in the summer is a trip to Flaucher island in the Isar River, on whose north end the boys go to strip down and lie around on a pebbly “beach.” If you really want to experience it all in full roar, make your reservations now to be here next July for the local Gay Pride hootenanny, Christopher Street Day, or in September (this year, the 23rd) for the Rosa Wiesn (gay Oktoberfest, top and below right).
Munich Hotels, Munich Restaurants, Munich Nightlife
Hotel-wise, for fag-friendly, convenient to the scene, and higher-end, after the Deutsche Eiche I really like the minimalist-sleek, 54-room Hotel Advokat (Baaderstrasse 1) and the mix of old and new at the 38-room Hotel Olympic (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 4). Several blocks away, and also near the downtown shopping district, the 70-unit Carat-Hotel München (Lindwurmstrasse 13,) is another good choice. And a bit farther afield (but still an easy hop via Munich’s great subway, the S-Bahn) the 106-room K+K Hotel am Harras (Albert-Rosshaupter-Strasse 4) and Hotel Nymphenburg (Nymphenburger Strasse 141), with 44 sometimes funkily painted rooms, are also welcoming.
For more budget-priced digs, try the convenient and gemütlich Pension Seibel (Reichenbachstasse 8). If you’re not stuck on “full-service” and/or are looking to drop as little as $40-$50 nightly, you’ll also get to live a little bit more like a native (not to mention with a tad more, ahem, privacy) by booking your own apartment or a room (B&B-style) in someone else’s, through a pair of gay-run agencies, Enjoy Bed & Breakfast and Peter Harke’s Gay Tourist Office Munich, which also provides tours and other services.
Eating and drinking in Munich, meanwhile, has gone way beyond schnitzel, wurst, and Weizebier in recent years. On the schwule culinary front, top choices include the excellent traditional German/international menu at the Deutsche Eiche, the panini and updated German fare at Café Selig (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 3, 220.127.116.11), the lighter, contemporary fare at Kr@ftakt.
There are too many bars and clubs to go into in detail, but favorites worth noting start with the mod café-loungey Selig (see above); the friendly, more old-fashioned scene across the street at Nil (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 2); the fun, campy atmosphere (but plenty of hotties, too, I promise) at the inimitable classic Prosecco (Theklastrasse 1, right); and the edgier, harder-core vibe at Bau (Mullerstrasse 41). The ladies will want to check out Café Glück (Palmstrasse 4), while the big late-night boogie spot for both boyz and girlz is the basement New York Club (Sonnenstrasse 25). There’s plenty of sex-club-type action, too, (like Duplexx, with cubicles, glory holes, etc.) as well as regular parties from gay line dancing to sex parties.
For more of these and other gay specifics (including parties and events happening during your visit), check out the info sites I list below. For gay specifics, try www.RosaMuenchen.de, www.GayMunich.de, www.OurMunich.de, www.Sergej-Magazin.de, and www.MLC-Munich.de. For more general Munich info, check out the Munich tourist office Web site.
Gay travel writer Dave Acton is the editor of The Gay Translator: Love+Hookups in 7 Languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Czech).